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Domino is
a "disarmingly
straight-forward"
work that "pushes
us to reexamine our
relationship to images
and their consumption,
not only ethically
but metaphysically"
-Collin Brinkman

De Palma on Domino
"It was not recut.
I was not involved
in the ADR, the
musical recording
sessions, the final
mix or the color
timing of the
final print."

Listen to
Donaggio's full score
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De Palma/Lehman
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in Snakes

De Palma/Lehman
next novel is Terry

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"a horror movie
based on real things
that have happened
in the news"

Supercut video
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edited by Carl Rodrigue

Washington Post
review of Keesey book

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Exclusive Passion
Interviews:

Brian De Palma
Karoline Herfurth
Leila Rozario

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AV Club Review
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A note about topics: Some blog posts have more than one topic, in which case only one main topic can be chosen to represent that post. This means that some topics may have been discussed in posts labeled otherwise. For instance, a post that discusses both The Boston Stranglers and The Demolished Man may only be labeled one or the other. Please keep this in mind as you navigate this list.
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Thursday, January 7, 2021
SAOIRSE ON THE 'PURELY VISCERAL' APPEAL OF 'SISTERS'
IN ORDER TO DESCRIBE IT, "YOU SOMEWHAT HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT AS TWO DIFFERENT MOVIES"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sistersoperation0small.jpg

At A Fistful of Film today, "Saoirse’s Cult Corner" takes a look at Brian De Palma's Sisters:
If Obsession was de Palma’s riff on Vertigo, this is his riff on Rear Window, if, at first at least, from a different perspective. The film opens with a strange ‘Peeping Tom’ quiz show in which a real person is tricked into a compromising situation involving opportunities to prey on a vulnerable woman, here played by the iconic Margot Kidder. She pretends to be a blind woman for the show, and in a secretly filmed scenario, contestants have to guess whether the person being covertly filmed is going to grope her or not as she undresses, supposedly unaware of his presence. He doesn’t, and respects her privacy. After the airing of the game show they have a date together that’s going great until Kidder’s ex-husband, played by the phantom himself William Finley being, stupendously creepy, shows up.

What follows is a 45 minute set piece that plays like a one act play for half the movie. It involves a slow build to murder and then an investigation when a neighbouring journalist sees the murder. It is unquestionably one of the most tense things I’ve ever seen as de Palma utilises his trademark split screen with the utmost aplomb with amazing visual storytelling. It at many moments plays out like the opening of Orson WellesTouch of Evil, which de Palma had already homaged in his movie Phantom of the Paradise, except it uses edits to juxtapose two separate plotlines playing out tangentially in real time, (where Phantom of the Paradise uses much longer takes), this lets the audience make the sums in their head as to who will get away with what, winding the tension like a ratchet. The actual editing on show here, by Hollywood legend and editor of Star Wars, Paul Hirsch, is astonishing. If you know anything about Star Wars‘s making, Paul Hirsch and Brian de Palma, amongst several other people who are not George Lucas, are the sole reason Star Wars is a well edited film, and their skill comes together here in a showcase of some of the best editing you will ever, ever see. I almost think this would be my favourite de Palma if the whole movie played out like this first half, keeping in one apartment, as a journalist who has justifiably criticised the police force is constantly ignored by them until she can uncover murder, which is what the plot of this first half is, and it’s insane and it’s intense.

The rest of the movie is still par excellence as you’d expect from de Palma. It plays out for a time almost like a preemptive to Argento’s Deep Red, with our protagonist trying to make it as a female journalist and bumping up against colourful characters who she negotiates to try to get to the bottom of this mystery. She eventually makes it to a mental ward where Margot Kidder is now becoming institutionalised and things get… weird…

So where to describe the appeals of this movie? In order to do that you somewhat have to talk about it as two different movies.

In the movie it is for most of its runtime and first, it’s a tense, knuckle-whitening thriller that explores typical de Palma themes of police corruption. Part of the reason the cops are loathe to investigate this murder is that it’s the murder of a black man, reported by a woman who we are introduced to, looking for all the world like Jane Fonda in the middle of her revolutionary period, with columns pinned on the wall about how police have failed at their jobs and suppressed people of colour in America. The storytelling is impeccable, making sure, in the way that de Palma does, that each and every element is kept track of for the audience at every moment. It means that as an audience you have to do virtually no work but it’s still at atmosphere you could cut like a knife, in part because you’re wondering how this all plays out, but also because it just plays out like a Swiss watch in how each element moves absolutely perfectly. Margot Kidder as usual plays beautifully with a challenging role in a genre picture, making the most of some very difficult scenes. Even after the first 45 minutes end and we follow a more conventional mystery narrative, the storytelling is beautifully maintained, leading up to the climax, at which point very few of the remaining threads matter too much as it takes on a whole new tone…

So, I want to talk about the third act, but to do so would be majorly spoiler heavy, so I’m going to try to keep this brief and vague. The third act gets… psychedelic. It changes to flashbacks filmed in black and white that, while trying to evoke real photography we’ve been shown earlier in the picture, takes place entirely in the mental space of a character. So much of the third act revolves around breaking down the boundary between reality and fantasy. Breaking down the boundaries between what is imagined and what is real, and how much that boundary even matters. It involves hypnosis leading to not one, but two fascinating and haunting codas. What’s fascinating about this climax is how much it moves into pure psychological space. It’s a film that starts as an incredibly grounded riff on The Bird With The Crystal Plumage via Rear Window, and ends more like Carnival of Souls… It’s mildly astonishing, if over-exposited for my tastes, and made with a killer eye to style, within quite low budget confines.

So that’s Sisters, it’s the first movie where de Palma tried to make a movie with the kind of polish that he’d make his own and it is the perfect meeting between the anarchist, revolutionary, unconventional and difficult de Palma that I love, and the more straightforward and stylish de Palma that I like and everyone loves. Its appeals are hard to describe in words, because they are purely visceral. Sisters is a film you watch, not explain, so go watch it. It’s [f**king] great.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 8, 2021 12:07 AM CST
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Wednesday, January 6, 2021
SCARFACE AS ILLUSTRATED BY GARRY SAVENKOV
AND CINEMAMA PICKS 'SCRAFACE' AS 1 OF 3 TO WATCH BEFORE/AFTER/INSTEAD OF 'WONDER WOMAN 1984'
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/cinemamascarface.jpg

Earlier today on Instagram, Garry Savenkov posted pictures from a Berlin gallery exhibition of a few illustrations he's done, depicting various characters from films such as Scarface, Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs, and City Of God, holding paint brushes at the end of an extended arm.

Meanwhile, the blogger CineMama, disappointed with Wonder Woman 1984, picks three movies to watch instead: Mike Nichols' Working Girl, Christopher Landon's Happy Death Day 2U, and Brian De Palma's Scarface. "Like many viewers impressed by Wonder Woman 1984‘s marketing campaign," CineMama begins, "the actual film disappointed me. Potential for both an ’80s working comedy (the kind with big hair and sexist bosses) and an epic tearjerker fell by the wayside and left me craving movies with a clearer vision. These three movies each include plot or style elements similar to WW84‘s, but where WW84 stumbles, these movies soar."

CineMama adds, "A side note: I enjoy the 'before/after/instead of' format because instead of focusing negative energy on just tearing a film apart or writing a 'review' that solely compares a movie to other movies, I focus on the parts that most resonate with me and build upon that by lifting up other films."

Regarding Scarface, then, CineMama writes:

In WW84, the lead villain, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) trades his physical well-being to a “Dreamstone” for the ability to grant wishes. He announces to Wonder Woman at one point in his wish-fulfilling frenzy, “The world belongs to me!” which reminded me of the words that encourage and eventually taunt Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface: The world is yours.

A Cuban refugee working at a restaurant in Miami, Scarface‘s Tony Montana believes that he’s meant for more than his blue-collar existence and gets heavily involved in drug trafficking. He builds an empire of riches, but unsurprisingly, like a Faustian tale, he pays the bloody price for his success. The world is yours, but at what cost?

Similarly, Max Lord in WW84, born Maxwell Lorenzano, came from a poor background and wanted an immensely better life for himself and his son. Though he finds power through the Dreamstone, the abilities bequeathed to him cause massive chaos both personally and on a wider scale. Lord’s physical health deteriorates and the world descends into madness as he instructs anyone who will listen: “You can have it all; you just have to want it!”


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, January 7, 2021 12:15 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 5, 2021
'BODY DOUBLE' ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID AMBLARD
POSTED ON HIS INSTAGRAM PAGE EARLIER TODAY

https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/davidamblard.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Saturday, January 2, 2021
'SISTERS' CLOSES OUT CINEMA RECALL'S DE PALMA SERIES
AND IT MAKES COLLIDER'S LIST OF 25 ALL-TIME BEST PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/sistersgerms1small.jpg

Last month, the weekly podcast Cinema Recall had a "De Palma December" series, which kicked off with Body Double. After episodes on Dressed To Kill, Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, and The Untouchables, "De Palma December" came to a close last week with an episode on De Palma's Sisters.

Meanwhile, earlier today, Collider's William Bibbiani posted a chronological list of "The 25 Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time." In his introduction, Bibbiani explains that there was "only one caveat: there’s only one film from each director, because some filmmakers make a cottage industry of this genre, and it’s important to share as many brilliant films from as many different perspectives as possible." And so when it came to Brian De Palma, Bibbiani chose Sisters:

Brian De Palma crafted the majority of his career around acrobatically photographed, labyrinthine psychological, and frequently sexual thrillers. But although Dressed to Kill, Obsession, Body Double and Raising Cain are all stellar, whirlwind shockers, it’s his first foray into Hitchcockian suspense that stands out. Sisters is a twisted, grotesque, unexpected delight.

The story of Sisters takes many sharp turns, beginning with an amusing anecdote of voyeurism, segueing into young love and jealousy, careening into murder, and then returning once again to voyeurism. From there on out we’re in Nancy Drew territory, as a plucky young reporter, played by Jennifer Salt, investigating a murder she’s sure was committed by an aspiring actress, played by Superman’s Margot Kidder, or possibly her identical twin sister. That is, until De Palma’s Grand Guignol climax, where the rules go out the window and so does the mystery, as though the filmmaker couldn’t wait to show you just how disturbing and fascinating his imagination is.


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, January 3, 2021 1:05 AM CST
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Friday, January 1, 2021
SOBCZYNSKI - 'BONFIRE' HAS 'A REAL LIVE-WIRE CHARGE'
"DESPITE ALL OF THE EFFORTS FROM ABOVE TO ELIMINATE SUCH THINGS FROM THE PROCEEDINGS"
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/bonfirefuture.jpg

Over at RogerEbert.com a few days ago, Peter Sobczynski posted an article with the headline, "You Don’t Think the Future Knows How to Cross A Bridge: Relighting The Bonfire of the Vanities." Sobczynski proffers that "there are two different movies at the center of The Bonfire of the Vanities fighting for control, and whether you wind up liking the film or not will depend to an enormous degree on which one you choose to focus on." Describing the first of these as strictly an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's novel, Sobczynski states, "then yes, it does not work for any number of reasons." After describing several reasons why that is the case, Sobczynski delves into the more intriguing other film at play:
If you can somehow manage to remove all your memories and knowledge of the book from your mind—which was somewhat difficult back when the film first came out since it was pretty much the novel of its time—there is another and somewhat more interesting movie going on at the same time, and this is largely courtesy of the decision to have Brian De Palma direct. Then and now, he was most famous for his wildly audacious and often controversial suspense thrillers. The announcement that he would be doing “Bonfire” raised many eyebrows, with many assuming that he only got put on the list of potential directors because “The Untouchables” not only made a ton of money but proved that even an iconoclast like him could utilize his gifts to make an across-the-board blockbuster if he actually put his mind to it.

However, before he became famous for making grisly and twisty thrillers, De Palma initially made a name for himself directing highly acerbic satirical comedies such as “Greetings,” “Hi Mom,” and his first studio effort, “Get to Know Your Rabbit.” These were films that took on the big issues of the time—race, sex, class, the war in Vietnam, the JFK assassination—and skewered them all in wild and oftentimes outrageous ways that not even the passing of the decades has managed to dim. (The only exception is “Get to Know Your Rabbit,” a film on which he feuded with star Tommy Smothers and was eventually fired by Warner Bros. marking the first and last time he worked there until “Bonfire” came along.) While those earlier movies, “Rabbit” excepted, were made on tiny budgets on the streets of New York and with largely unknown actors (including a pre-fame Robert De Niro), “Bonfire” allowed him the chance to return to those roots, albeit with tens of millions of dollars at his disposal this time around. Some of the funniest scenes in the film, such as the one in which Weiss insists to his staff that he is not at all racist while at the same time coming across as nothing but, could have easily come from those earlier films and also come the closest to hitting the edgy tone found in the original material.

In bringing the story to the screen, De Palma, along with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, utilized a highly stylized approach that favored the visual pyrotechnics for which he was famous. The film is full of elaborate camera moves (including an insanely intricate opening Steadicam shot of Fallow stumbling around backstage at a publishing party that runs for about five minutes without a cut) and weird closeups designed to make characters look even more grotesque than they already are. At the time, De Palma was criticized for employing such a seemingly unnecessary visual approach, but it actually fits the material. One of the key problems with anyone attempting to adapt Wolfe’s work to the screen is that it was his distinctive voice as a writer that made his work stand out so well, and it's that voice that's usually the first thing that gets lost during the adaptation process. While the screenplay awkwardly tries to invoke Wolfe’s prose by transforming it into narration from Fallow, De Palma’s visual gambits end up doing an unexpectedly effective job of finding a cinematic equivalent to Wolfe’s go-for-baroque literary style.

And while the film ultimately feels more like a collection of scenes from the book than a fully satisfying narrative, some of those scenes are quite good and entertaining. The opening Steadicam shot is, not surprisingly, a technical wonder but it also serves as an inventive introduction into the rarefied realm of the story, and Willis’ physical performance throughout the sequence is easily his most genuinely engaging bit in the film. The stuff involving the Weiss character is amusingly cynical and offers a real hint as to what the film might have been like had the material not been tamped down so much in an effort to make it more likable and accessible. And the scene in which Fallow has a fateful dinner with Arthur Ruskin is also quite funny, though I wish that it had gone on longer as it did in the book. Even the miscasting of Hanks winds up paying off nicely at one point late in the proceedings when he finds himself wrestling with the idea of lying in court about the origin of the fateful cassette—now that Hanks has long since established himself as contemporary cinema’s unquestioned patron saint of decency and moral uprightness, it's darkly funny to see him in a situation in which the only way for the truth to come out is to lie his ass off in court.

Considering how dated the once au courant material of "Bonfire" must seem to audiences today, the film's viewers are primarily those who have just finished reading The Devil’s Candy and are using it as a sort of visual guide to that book and not Wolfe’s. Hell, even when one looks at it solely on the basis of being a De Palma film, his most ardent supporters would be hard-pressed to put it in the top half or even the top two-thirds of his cinematic output to date. However, for all of its mistakes and miscalculations and moments of utter garishness (including one scene involving actress Beth Broderick and a photocopier that is almost astoundingly tasteless), "Bonfire" is not only more interesting than its reputation might suggest. In its best moments, the film demonstrates both a personality and a real live-wire charge, despite all of the efforts from above to eliminate such things from the proceedings. Those willing to look at it through fresh eyes and properly adjusted expectations may be surprised to discover it's not that bad after all.



Posted by Geoff at 8:28 PM CST
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Thursday, December 31, 2020
SLOW MOTION TO MIDNIGHT
HAPPY NEW YEAR
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/rc1159medium.jpg

Posted by Geoff at 10:43 PM CST
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Monday, December 28, 2020
PIC - BRIAN DE PALMA & JARED MARTIN, CIRCA LATE '90s
POSTED ON INSTAGRAM BY TARA CULP, DE PALMA'S ASSISTANT FROM THE SNAKE EYES/MISSION TO MARS DAYS
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/brianjaredtaraculp.jpg

"From the archives," Tara Culp wrote in an Instagram post yesterday featuring the image above, which shows longtime friends Brian De Palma and Jared Martin together. "Thinking about how difficult it is for our young ones to get out there and meet important people who will guide them on their path," Culp continues. "Let’s keep connecting people with people, people! These two men positively impacted my life but boy did they make me work for it! Love you 💙"

Culp was assistant to Mr. De Palma on Snake Eyes (1998) and Mission To Mars (2000).


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 29, 2020 1:08 AM CST
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Sunday, December 27, 2020
HOLY MACKEREL - EMMA RIDGWAY PORTRAIT OF DE PALMA
POSTED ON CHRISTMAS DAY, SHE DREW IT WHILE WATCHING THE BAUMACH/PALTROW DOC
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/emmaridgwaydrawing.jpg

On Christmas two days ago, London-based artist Emma Ridgway posted the portrait of Brian De Palma above on Instagram, with the following caption:
Merry Christmas! 🎄Here’s a portrait of director Brian De Palma that I drew while watching Noah Baumbach’s film “De Palma” about him on @mubi .

More of Ridgway's art can be seen at emmycrayon.com.

Posted by Geoff at 4:35 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, December 27, 2020 4:36 PM CST
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Thursday, December 24, 2020
LOOKING AT FRANKENHEIMER'S 'BLACK SUNDAY'
CINEMATOGRAPHER JOHN A. ALONZO ALSO SHOT 'SCARFACE', BLIMP AND ALL
https://www.angelfire.com/de/palma/blacksundayblimp.jpg

To follow up with yesterday's post that briefly looked at the influence of John Frankenheimer's films on those of Brian De Palma, today we take a brief look at Frankenheimer's Black Sunday. In the 1977 suspense thriller, a Goodyear Blimp is turned into a terrorist threat as it flies over the Super Bowl game. The film was shot by John A. Alonzo, who had shot Brian De Palma's Get To Know Your Rabbit a few years earlier. In between, he was the cinematographer on a crazy little film called Chinatown.

When Alonzo teamed up with De Palma in 1983 to shoot a remake of Scarface, the idea of a large electronic advertisement slogan, "The world is yours," was already a key moment in the original 1932 Howard Hawks version. To ask Alonzo to shoot that same slogan on a blimp about six years after shooting an ominous blimp for Frankenheimer's film is an in-joke that pays off, even if you don't get the reference, as one of the most memorable moments in De Palma's Scarface.

It is worth noting that the score for Black Sunday was composed by John Williams. The following year, Williams provided the propulsively dark music for De Palma's The Fury.

MEANWHILE, A FLASHBACK FROM 2004:

Posted April 13 2004
TARANTINO TALKS KILL BILL
EXPLAINS HIS "LITTLE BRIAN DE PALMA SCENE"
It seemed logical that the split-screen sequence in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, where Daryl Hannah dons a nurse's uniform and whistles a Bernard Herrmann melody while carrying a deadly syringe down a hospital corridor, was inspired in great part by a combination of Brian De Palma's Sisters and Dressed To Kill. On the new DVD release of the film, Tarantino even calls it his "little Brian De Palma scene." But the filmmaker tells Premiere that this particular split-screen sequence was inspired by the trailer for a John Frankenheimer film-- a scene in the trailer that was cut and scored differently than it was in Frankenheimer's film. Tarantino explains that he does not duplicate other directors' shots when he references their films in his work, but rather "a feeling in the shot or an aspect about the shot I liked." He then explains how he has a collection of 35mm trailers from movies, particularly from the '70s, and how these trailers are works of art in and of themselves in that they used techniques that Tarantino likens to the work of Godard. Having seen the films that these trailers promote, Tarantino claims that many of the scenes or sequences shown in the trailers are not in the actual films. "It's just in the trailer," he tells Premiere:

There's this one trailer for Black Sunday by John Frankenheimer that has a scene in it that's done differently than it is in the movie. It's amazing. There's a scene in the movie-- it's like, you know, killer terrorist shit-- where Marthe Keller is going to kill Robert Shaw, who works for the Israeli Army. He's in the hospital, so she dresses up like a nurse with a syringe full of lethal injection, and she's going to go into his hospital room and inject him. Well, in the movie it's an okay sequence, but not really that special. They don't really milk it that much. It's routine.

But in the trailer for the movie, when it gets to showing us that sequence, they do the whole thing in split screen. And where they just had natural sounds playing in the movie, they have John Williams's Black Sunday theme [humming the tune] pulsing through the whole trailer, so it's just ticking beats to the images. This is not in the movie anywhere. This is one of the best split-screen sequences I've ever seen.

So for Kill Bill, I say, "We're doing this when Elle Driver shows up at the hospital."

And then I have another, like, weird movie reference in there because I have Daryl Hannah whistling-- she learned how to whistle Bernard Herrmann's theme to this movie called Twisted Nerve. And the thing is, when she leaves the frame, the Bernard Herrmann score kicks in, you hear the same theme done in this lush Bernard Herrmann melody, and then it goes into split screen and it looks like I'm doing an homage to Dressed To Kill-era De Palma.

Bernard Herrmann scored two De Palma films: Sisters (1973) and Obsession (1976). Daryl Hannah made her film debut in De Palma's The Fury (1978), which was scored by John Williams. One character, Bobbi, steals a nurse's uniform to wear in De Palma's Dressed To Kill (1980). Sisters and Dressed To Kill each feature memorable split-screen sequences.

 


Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, December 25, 2020 12:48 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 23, 2020
DE PALMA WAS ALSO INFLUENCED BY FRANKENHEIMER
ALTHOUGH IT IS RARELY MENTIONED OR DELVED INTO
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There's a hint of John Frankenheimer's Manchurian Candidate within the assassination finale of Brian De Palma's Phantom Of The Paradise, and an unproduced screenplay De Palma wrote with Jay Cocks in the mid-1990s called Ambrose Chapel is a sort of Manchurian Candidate by way of Alfred Hitchcock's Man Who Knew Too Much (and also a touch of Luc Besson's Nikita). Frankenheimer's is a cinema of visual virtuosity, and is obviously one that lingers in the De Palma subconcscious. Around the time of Ambrose Chapel, De Palma worked with David Koepp to concoct Snake Eyes. An article in The Irish Times from around the time of that film's 1998 release links De Palma to Frankenheimer and Arthur Penn as filmmakers "who emerged in the 1960s" and "much of whose best work is indelibly marked by their disillusionment and cynicism in the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination."

There is no author currently listed at that link of the Irish Times article, but it also delves into things that have been posted here at De Palma a la Mod recently, regarding how De Palma felt at that time, eight years removed, about The Bonfire Of The Vanities, Julie Salamon's book, and how "reviewers basically seem to review things with a herd mentality that flows through the press junket and what's in the press kit." Have a look:

The shrill, incessant whine of the fire alarm started at about four in the morning, and the evacuation of the Toronto hotel got underway. Moving briskly down the snaking fire escape from the sixth floor to the lobby, I recognised the grey-haired guest who was ahead of me - the American film-maker, Brian De Palma. We had met for an interview in New York just the week before.

As we reached the ground floor and made our exit out into the chilly morning air, De Palma explained that he was in Toronto on a private visit, solely to watch movies at the city's annual film festival. Every year, he says, he goes to Toronto, and to the Montreal Film Festival which immediately precedes it, for his annual fix of international cinema, to catch all the many movies from around the world which fail to acquire cinema distribution, even in cosmopolitan New York where De Palma lives.

The great majority of film-makers attend festivals only when they have a new movie to screen, and even then, they whizz in and out, making the obligatory appearance at the premiere of their own movie and putting in a day or two of media interviews. The only other time I can recall a filmmaker spending any length of time watching other people's movies at a festival was the year Quentin Tarantino arrived in Cannes 10 days early for the world premiere of Pulp Fiction and spent all his time watching and talking about movies.

However, De Palma didn't even have a movie showing at Toronto; his latest film, Snake Eyes, was already playing in cinemas across he city. But then, De Palma is a cineaste - as is demonstrated by the cinematic references which abound in his work, some of which is like a shrine to Alfred Hitchcock, whose films he idolises.

Despite the market-driven, assembly-line philosophy which permeates the film industry, De Palma believes there is still a place for film as art today. "There are some very moving and artistic films being made," he said, "but they're certainly very much in the minority compared to what's in the mainstream."

Flashback to our New York interview a week earlier, and De Palma is in less positive humour, making no attempt to disguise his irritation at some of the reviews for his new film, Snake Eyes. The reviews have been "pretty mixed", he says. "But that's been happening to me since the beginning of my career," he adds. "People don't really seem to watch what's going on in front of the screen, and the reviewers basically seem to review things with a herd mentality that flows through the press junket and what's in the press kit."

"The European critics tend to be somewhat different. They're more likely to see what's there on the screen and review that. They seem to have more trained eyes in terms of what visually they respond to, and they're not caught up in the cliches of the media. I guess it's not a great era of great critics, but then again, it's not a great era of great cinema, either."

Nevertheless, the most negative reviews for Snake Eyes positively pale in comparison to the vitriolic response to De Palma's 1991 film of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, a project which attracted an extraordinarily intense level of media scrutiny before, during and after production.

Eight years on, De Palma shrugs dismissively at the memories of it all. "Again it's an example of people not seeing what's on the screen," he says. "They bring these preconceptions of what they think the movie should be and then criticise it harshly because of that. In Europe the film was better received because not so many people there had read the book. It was very much a book of its time. That happens. Some things tend to be very fashionable for a time, but they don't have the quality that makes them endure over the decades."

Now that he has more or less put all that flak behind him, De Palma says he has no regrets about allowing his friend, the then Wall Street Journal critic, Julie Salamon, such a breadth of access to observe and chronicle the making of The Bonfire of the Vanities in her book, The Devil's Candy, one of the most perceptive and illuminating books ever written on the film-making process and all its many problems engendered by corporate power, interference and compromise.

It is also a remarkably revealing book in terms of Brian De Palma himself, particularly in the chapter on his upbringing. "Perhaps it was inevitable," Salamon states, "that De Palma would end up in a high-profile, nasty competitive business like film-making, where one's accomplishments were judged publicly and often harshly - and a regular cycle of rejection and acceptance was an immutable fact of life."

He was born in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Philadelphia, the third son of an orthopaedic surgeon and his wife. "Brian was a mistake," his mother, Vivienne, frankly tells Salamon in the book. "Brian was a surprise. I didn't really want to have another child. He was a premature baby. He weighed 4 lbs when he was born. I was in labour for three days, too. He just didn't want to be born. He would scream and scream. When he couldn't talk, he would scream. I think he had to do it. It was his way of asking for attention."

Long before he entered the highly competitive world of filmmaking, the young Brian De Palma was constantly competing with his older brothers, Bruce and Bart, for the attention of parents who never properly acknowledged his achievements. "His father attributed Bruce's achievements to his `brilliant mind'," Salamon states, while Brian succeeded, in his father's view, because he was "a contending individual".

Aspects of Brian's teenage life unavoidably re-surfaced in his work as a film-maker. At 17, suspecting his father of having an affair, he set about diligently taping all his father's telephone calls; in De Palma's riveting 1981 movie, Blow Out, John Travolta played a sound recordist who may or may not have witnessed a murder. And then there were the times when Brian's father would bring him along to watch him at work in the operating theatre - which goes some way towards explaining the almost casually blood-splattered nature of some of Brian De Palma's movies, especially his masterpiece, Carrie, in which blood is the unrelenting motif from startling start to shocking finish.

His new film, Snake Eyes, belongs with De Palma's cycle of cynical, paranoid thrillers which have included Blow Out and the 1968 Greetings. Snake Eyes takes place almost entirely within an Atlantic City gambling emporium and boxing arena where the US secretary of defence is shot during a prize fight.

Nicolas Cage plays the tainted local detective on the case, with Gary Sinise as his old friend, a navy commander now highly placed in the department of defence. Snake Eyes evokes Kurosawa's classic, Rashomon, in its viewing of the assassination from multiple perspectives - on a grand scale in this case, given that there are 14,000 witnesses and the complex is dotted with surveillance cameras.

Brian De Palma is one of those film-makers who emerged in the 1960s, along with Arthur Penn and John Frankenheimer, much of whose best work is indelibly marked by their disillusionment and cynicism in the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assassination. De Palma was going on his first date with Jill Claybrugh, who co-starred with Robert De Niro in Greetings, on that fateful day in November 1963, when they saw television footage of the Kennedy assassination in a store window.

"The Kennedy assassination was probably the most investigated murder case in history," he says. "But the more you investigate the more murk you come up with." He cites the amateur footage shot by Abraham Zapruder in Dallas on the day. "The more you blow it up looking for hidden details, the harder it is to make out the picture."

The cynicism of Snake Eyes extends to the point where virtually every significant character in the movie is corrupt on one level or another. "That's the way people are these days," De Palma says matter-of-factly. So he believes that just about anyone can be bought these days? "Possibly," he says. "There doesn't seem to be anything morally wrong with it either. You just seem stupid if you don't take the money!"

He continues: "Having been brought up on the Jersey shore, I've watched Atlantic City evolve from a classy resort town to a casino world, which is a very unusual environment. There are no clocks or windows in the casinos. They represent a completely false reality. You walk into this place and all these lights and people smiling and handing you drinks. It looks like paradise. But in reality you're being robbed blind."

As one has come to expect from a Brian De Palma movie, technical virtuosity and visual style abound in Snake Eyes, most exhilaratingly in the opening 12 minute sequence which consists of one dazzling, apparently continuous steadicam shot following Nic Cage's nervy progress through the bustling boxing arena. "Well, it is cinema," De Palma says drily. "Catch the eye of the viewer and show them something on that big wide screen that uses the elements that are given to us to create these stories.

"I wanted to show the space it all happens in, to have the audience experience that blurred quick vision of what happens during the assassination. So much happens so fast that you have to propel it with a tremendous amount of energy so that they can't take everything in at first. And then you want the audience very much to want to go back to those various points of view to find out what they missed."

He pauses. "I don't take the easy way out."


Posted by Geoff at 11:52 PM CST
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